Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A Question

Unfortunately, I'm not a fountain of wisdom (a la Goodacre, Tilling, Barber, Black, etc), but a burden of questions. One that has really been on my mind lately is: Did the authors of the New Testament understand that they were writing Scripture? I'll go even further...is the New Testament Scripture? Yikes! I'm sure I'll get some double-takes on that one. But, really, why should I think the New Testament is Scripture? Why can't it just be a collection of books that detail the height of God's interaction with man in history? Something I'm always weary of is idol-worship. A post I made awhile back was reposted on a German website under the title uber Bibel-Gotzenverehrung (which translates to something like "super Bible Idol worship", or something along those lines). And that pretty much sums up what I'm afraid of: worshiping something other than God. In my questioning I have in mind 1 Corinthians 15:15 where Paul says :

"Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ , whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised" (NASB)

Something I'm pretty sure of is that I don't want to be a false witness against God. So, if I say "The New Testament is inspired, inerrant, Holy Writ" and it's not true, I've sinned.

Something else that bothers me are the endings of 2 and 3 John. 2 John 1:12 and 3 John 1:14 both mention that John had much to tell the recipients of the letter, but that he would rather tell them "face to face". If I knew I was writing Scripture, I'd want to be as lengthy as possible, not missing any details. If I were aware that my writings were going to be read for thousands of years, I don't think I'd write a short letter that pretty much repeats exactly what I've already written (1 John). It seems that what he had to tell them was far more important than writing it out on some papyri (or a scroll, depending upon who you read). In other words perhaps the Gospel is more important than any of the gospels.

Two arguments I hear for the inspiration/inerrancy (not the same things, but these arguments are used for both...and naturally if they aren't inspired, they aren't inerrant):

1)Scripturally:I hear 2 Timothy 3:16 thrown around as if we can assume that Paul had the NT mind. He may have it in mind, but I need more proof than just citing the verse. 2 Timothy would've been written when some of the books of the NT had not yet been written. How do we explain that? Another argument from Scripture is the use of 2 Peter 3:16. This is a bit more convincing that at least some of Paul's letters are Scripture, in Peter's view. However, which ones? Are we sure we have all the letters? I'm not conspiring here, I just mean that Paul's epistles are occasional and sometimes personal, so can we be sure that we have them all?

2)Historically: A great many contemporary scholars will disagree with me here, but...I believe that there were atleast some churches (perhaps Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Oxyrhynchus) that had complete copies of the NT as we have it by the end of the first century/very early in the 2nd century. Most people who appeal for the canonicity will appeal to the historical understanding of the canon from the early church. But, just because historically someone did something doesn't make it right. In other words, like N.T. Wright mentions in The New Testament and the People of God, we shouldn't immediately assume that the early church is normative for all of Christianity. An appeal to the earliest understanding may not be the right way to go. Perhaps they were mistaken. Perhaps they needed their book to be Scripture too (compared to the OT).

So, if you've made it all the way through this post, you may think me a heretic. Quite alright. Whether you think I'm a heretic or not, I want you to suggest some reading. The overall question is: Why should I think the New Testament is Scripture?


Anariel said...

I have no idea how to answer your question, but it's a very good one and I'll be watching to see how people respond.

But...This post raises another question for me...What IS Scripture? What does calling a text "scripture" mean for that text?

Danny Zacharias said...

I knew you were a heretic from your first post, so this blasphemy comes as no surprise!

But the dreaded slash you made, bad boy! (inspiration/inerrancy). Do Not Equate These Two! You can be inerrant and not be inspired, and vice versa. If this is not true, then you are spreading the concept of inspiration to any true statement, like 2+2=5. Just because the math is inerrant doesn't make it inspired.

This isn't a full answer to your question, but at least part of it is recognizing that this issue is a communal issue. In other words, I can't point to arguments, historical, biblical, theological, etc. The arguments may be valid and reinforce our belief in the NT as scripture, but the reason it is scripture for me is because of the community of faith I am a part of- from the apostles to my home church. Scripture is more than valid propositions that can prove themselves logically or historically, it is witness to a story that we as a community choose to be binding and prescriptive for our community, our family, and our own self.

A natural argument is that this is circular, and it is. But the choice of a 'canon' is circular for everyone. Somone's canon may be heathenism, it may be atheism, or aristotelianism. In the end they choose their canon and live by it. We do the same thing.

When we call a text scripture, we are declaring that this book/story/teaching is authoritative in one sense or another for all born-again believers in any age, prescriptive for the life of the faith community, and it witnesses to the gospel.

Okay, back to work.

Mike said...

I'd suggest reading F. F. Bruce's The Canon of Scripture I Howard Marshall has written a book entitled Biblical Inspiriation, which I would also suggest. My last suggestion, which won't gain the support of everyone who reads these blogs...is Carl F. Henry's six volume tome, God, Revelation, and Authority. Henry pondered the issue of divine revelation more than anyone else I can think of save Barth.

For a more postmodern perspective, I'd suggest Kevin Vanhoozer's Drama of Doctrine.

You're asking tough and good questions. You'll find answers. If I had a good six months to spend thinking about your question, I'd try to give you an answer, but I've got homework and I'm starting grad school in July.

Mike said...

Josh a couple of other books are

NT Wright's The Last Word


Paul Achtemeier's Inspiration and Authority

Scott said...

1) The OT Scriptures of the Jewish (Judean?) community were not even finalized at the time of Paul's writing his letters. While the Council of Jamnia was not authoritative or conciliar in the way we would think it was still not until around this time (90 CE)that Ketuvim was perhaps added to the official Hebrew canon.

2) Of course, complicating this issue is the Septuagint and what it adds, and the fact that the majority of OT usages in the NT come from the Septuagint.

3) The influence of documents like Enoch on Luke, Jude, and 2 Peter--did they view this as authoritative?

4) Jesus' use of Aramaic Targums

5) The Gospels saying the "Law and the Prophets" as Scripture which is Torah and Neviim-- NOT Ketuvim and definitely NOT the New Testament.

At the very least there is no way what so ever that Paul's understanding of Scripture would be the same as ours. The influence and use of other extant documents make this improbable--not to mention that some had not been written.

Unfortunately, 2 Tim 3:16 is thrown around by the same sort of proof texters that don't realize that the Bible did not fall like a comet from heaven ready made in one singular form.

Josh McManaway said...

Anariel, Thanks for stopping by! I'm looking forward to the answers as well.

Danny, I mean that if Scripture is inerrant it is not simply "without error" as mathematics, but incapable of error. And perhaps mathematics is inspired. Also, I'm no mathematician...but I'm pretty sure that 2+2=5 isn't a true statement.

Mike, thanks for the suggestions! Where will you be doing your graduate work?

Scott, you've got a lot of really good points there. Thanks for stopping by.

Jim Munchbach said...

I love the question, at least it seemed like an honest question. I'm an old fart, greaduated from a Bible College where I was taught that God holds His word in the same esteem as His own name. Jesus (see opening words of John's gospel) proclaimed Him (Jesus) to be the living Word. The NT is the new covenant. All of the technical reasons that support the fact that the NT is "scripture" can be used to answer your question. But here's the final answer: The OT was a great guide (The law) and it couldn't do squat to save or redeem anybody. David (in Psalm 119) did have tons of good things to say about the wonder of "owning" God's instructions to His favored nation (Israel) and more personally to David himself. Yet, the OT "scripture" did not contain life, it only pointed to something on the horizon. The NT, however, contains the full Good News. The Holy Spirit moves in the words of the NT and breaths life into our deepest parts. If the OT was scripture, the NT is even more. I love the question, it seems honest. I'm 100% convinced that all honest questions open us to a richer exeprience of life in Christ - which is to be fully alive.
Munchbach in Texas

Josh McManaway said...

Jim, thanks for stopping by!

The question is certainly an honest one. It may seem like blasphemy, but I don't intend it to be. I liked your point, but I think it goes back to my other question: is the Gospel more important than the gospels? In other words, do I necessarily have to understand every word that John penned as being Scripture, or is it that the story behind it...the reality of what John is writing about...is the truth?

Mike Aubrey said...

Josh, I thought I would add one more thing...

If you can get a hold of Stanley Porter's A Handbook to the Exegesis of the New Testament at a library (its an incredibly expensive book on its own) I would advise reading Eldon Epp's excursus on Textual Criticism and Canon.

I'm in the midst of reading it myself.

Mike Aubrey said...

Josh, I just noticed your question...my wife, Rachel, and I will be at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linugistics for the next year...and then we'll be headed to Canada at Trinity Western University (for her) and Regent College (for me).

Storm said...

Hi, I had a question about your question: Is it really important that they knew that they were writing scripture? Was it not sufficient that they were accurately recording what they personally experienced and/or what their interviews with those who personally experienced the events said?

The reason I ask this is that it ocurred to me that when people document events e.g. the photographer of the Iwo Jima flag raising, they may or may not know that what they are about to document is going to become a classic. In fact could we even perhaps argue that it maybe better that they don't lest that knowledge affect their reporting or cause them to manipulate the data or the event itself. (In the Iwo Jimo photo case he later made a posed photo, but the photo that was finally famous and used was just one of his random shots). Isn't it sufficient that they are recording it accurately.

We also know that they had every motivation to record it accurately as least with regards to theological issues, since as they wrote it, most of them were already suffering and being persecuted for what they were writing and believed to be true. Thus it seems to make no sense that they'd falsify something and continue to suffer for it and then die for it all the while claiming it was true.

So in summary my question is:
Isn't it good that they did not know they were writing scripture?
Isn't it sufficient that what they were writing was accurate and unnessessary that they knew they were writing scripture?
Note this mainly applies to the Histories...i.e. the Gospels, Acts and the Revelations.
You asked however about John 1, 2 and 3. These and the Epistles etc maybe indeed different than the histories, because they would have not been writing from experience. But it may be worth thinking along the same lines.

I may be off base but it's just a thought I had reading your blog.


Josh McManaway said...

Storm, thanks for stopping by. Whether or not the authors knew they were writing Scripture or not isn't really important (in my mind) as to whether the NT is Scripture. Indeed, they could've been extremely accurate in their recording of the events, but that doesn't make it Scripture. It just makes it accurate.